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Wednesday, 6 September 2006

I gave Turtledove another chance
Mood:  accident prone
Now Playing: Quartato Gelatto
Topic: Book Review

Harry Turtledove does a very solid job with alternative history fiction.  My only problem with his work is that he gets roped into these obscenely long series with hundreds of characters and meandering plots that go nowhere.   Such is not the case with AGENT OF BYZANTIUM (a series of short stories that usually gets sold in a collection), which I have praised elsewhere.  Such is also not the case with a new line of "juveniles" for lack of a better term, focusing on a company that has invented alternative reality travel (CROSSTIME TRAFFIC), and sends its agents out to the other timelines to peacefully trade without interfering.  In both of the novels I read, the plot centered on the natives finding out about Crosstime Traffic and the trouble it causes.  The first one I read was CURIOUS NOTIONS, about a father son team that set up a "curiousity shop" in an America that got invaded by Imperial Germany.  Clearly, Turtledove is trying to recreate a style very similar to the early (1950s era) Heinlein novels, a la HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL.  And that's okay by me.  Curious Notions was a good read, not at all spectacular, with the central conceit of Crosstime Traffic and German-Conquered America being the most interesting elements of the plot.  The good points are that the novel will be very accessible to younger readers-- and there just isn't a lot of good juvenile SF being written these days, so more power to him!

The second novel in the series that I read, IN HIGH PLACES, shows a maturing plot line and more interesting characters.  In this installment, the central characters are traders with a timeline that had been decimated by the Black Plague to such an extent that Europe was almost depopulated.  Therefore, Islam has taken root almost all over Southern Europe.  The Christian kingdoms remaining have a strange form of dual Christianity, featuring a "younger brother" to Christ named Henri.  Turtledove explores what might happen when someone without the ethical standards of Crosstime Traffic gets their hands on the technology to move between timelines and seeks to use it to their own ends, for profit.  I think this is a great improvement and adds much to the series.  I will keep my eyes open for the other installments in this series, GUNPOWDER EMPIRE and THE DISUNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Posted by mrnizz at 11:21 AM EDT
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